Is Stress Contagious?

Are you surrounded by family members or friends who are constantly stressed out? It may have the same effect on your health as though you were experiencing the stress yourself.

In a new study in Nature Neuroscience, Jaideep Bains, PhD, and his team at the Cumming School of Medicine’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), at the University of Calgary have discovered that stress transmitted from others can change the brain in the same way as a real stress does. The study, in mice, also shows that the effects of stress on the brain are reversed in female mice following a social interaction. This was not true for male mice.

“Brain changes associated with stress underpin many mental illnesses including PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression,” says Bains, professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and member of the HBI. “Recent studies indicate that stress and emotions can be ‘contagious’. Whether this has lasting consequences for the brain is not known.”

Bains continues, “We readily communicate our stress to others, sometimes without even knowing it. There is even evidence that some symptoms of stress can persist in family and loved ones of individuals who suffer from PTSD. On the flip side, the ability to sense another’s emotional state is a key part of creating and building social bonds.”

This new research indicates that stress and social interactions are intricately linked. The consequences of these interactions can be long-lasting and may influence behaviors at a later time.

How can you decrease your stress levels? Exercise.

As the founder and owner of Fitness for Health, a therapeutic exercise facility assisting children through senior citizens to reach their full potential by using innovative exergaming technology to make fitness fun, I’ve learned that virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.  If you’re not an athlete or even if you’re out of shape, you can still make a little exercise go a long way toward stress management.

Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Physical activity helps bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Although this function is often referred to as a runner’s high, a rousing game of tennis or a nature hike also can contribute to this same feeling.”  After a fast-paced game of basketball or several laps around your favorite mall, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and concentrated only on your body’s movements.

As you begin to regularly shed your daily tensions through movement and physical activity, you may find that this focus on a single task, and the resulting energy and optimism, can help you remain calm and clear in everything you do.

Additionally, regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.

So, due yourself – and those people around you – a favor by exercising to improve your health and your mood.

About Fitness for Health:

Fitness for Health creates unique exercise programs based on a person’s individual fitness goals.  Do you want to lose weight, focus on weight management as an adult or combat childhood obesity?  Interested in toning your body?  Aspiring to improve your athletic edge?  No problem!  Whether you are a child or a senior citizen, Fitness for Health can you help you and your loved ones reach your full potential.